Petal entered a new chapter after legendary coach Marcus Boyles retired from the program.
Now, newly hired head coach Allen Glenn has the tough task of finding Petal’s next starting quarterback. In the last six years, the Panthers have had a rich history with Samuel Hopper, Jordan Wilson, DeCarlos Nicholson, and last year’s starter, Jackson Allen.
Glenn, however, believes he has found his quarterback with sophomore Cayden Burger. Burger competed against senior Thailan Prince in the spring for the job, but Glenn felt that the Panthers would need both of them in their backfield this upcoming season.
“We felt like Thailan could help us in other places offensively,” Glenn said. “We felt like to get the best 11 on the field, Cayden would be our quarterback, and we would play Thailan in other positions. It was a true competition, but in the end, we felt what was better for the team was Cayden being quarterback and Thailan being a Swiss army knife for us.”
For Burger, he understands that as a sophomore, he has to earn his team’s respect and try and stay confident.
“I know being a sophomore, I couldn’t just step up and start telling everybody what to do,” Burger said. “I know to lay back and let the seniors come in. The best part this year has been me bringing energy to the team and allowing us to bond. The best thing about me right now is bringing energy and letting the guys who don’t get a lot of recognition are doing great things.
“I’m really hard on myself. I’ll never blame anything on anybody else. There are highs and lows, and I know lows are going to happen. It’s a learning experience. Every time I fall, it’s just a chance to improve in any aspect of the game. I know it’s going to happen, but I have to pick my head up. I know a lot of the team looks at the quarterback, so I can’t have my head down when we make mistakes. I have to be positive and get it on the next play.”
It’s the first time that Glenn has started an underclassman at quarterback. At Amory, Glenn went with freshman quarterback Hunter Jones in 2017, who in first-year starting threw for 2,034 yards, 15 touchdowns while rushing for 379 yards and four touchdowns. Jones went on to throw over 2,000 yards and was responsible for over 30 touchdowns the next two seasons.
“I think it goes back to sometimes you are a little worried about putting a guy in the mix that early in his career, but I also think moving forward and down the line that it will help him out and our program out,” Glenn said. “We kind of did that, Amory, where I was before. We started a kid that was a freshman, and we felt like that was the best deal for our program at the time. He had a good freshman year. We feel Cayden is in the same situation with starting over at the quarterback position. Going with the young guy, I think, gives us a great chance in the future as well.”
Burger brings in his fair share of talent, with both coach and player agreeing that his speed is the strongest part of the game. While Burger understands that his game can be improved on in several aspects, the key to his success is to commit to working hard.
“I thought coming up as a sophomore, as a freshman last year, I got moved up to varsity as a freshman and played a little bit of slot and some kickoff and kickoff returns,” Burger said. “I was more excited than nervous. I know it’s 6A football. It’s big being a sophomore starter. We haven’t named a starter, but for him to kind of show me and let me get a bunch of reps has been amazing. I’m more excited for this season than I am nervous than anything. It’s been a great experience so far.
“I think the biggest thing that I have to work on as a quarterback is my throwing, but you can improve on anything. I still need to improve on both running and throwing. And reading the defense. Coming into a 6A school, when I was that guy when I was younger in middle school and coming up as a freshman, I didn’t really know how to read a defense. I just went off instinct. As a sophomore, it’s been crazy having to read defenses and learn all of that. That’s my game I have to improve on.”
Burger greatly looked up to Nicholson and Allen as a young quarterback but models his game after former Oak Grove quarterback John Rhys Plumlee.
“All the quarterbacks that came through here were great guys,” Burger said. “DeCarlos is now a defensive back committed to Mississippi State. Jackson is going to do great things at Northwest CC. Jackson last year taught me a lot of things. DeCarlos has to on reading defenses. They are both great guys.
“I know this sounds unbelievable being a Petal High School quarterback, but growing up, a guy that I liked to look up to that I like to fit my game after was John Rhys Plumlee from Oak Grove. I know that’s crazy to say. Just off what I know that I can do and improve myself to be better, that was a guy I looked up to growing up.”
For Glenn, he likes the idea of Burger looking up to Plumlee and ultimately shows his maturity as a young quarterback.
“I think that any kid that says they would like to mimic or model their game after John Rhys,” Glenn said. “The big I see with Cayden modeling himself after John Ryes is I think he sees how John Rhys is as a human being and what kind of person he is. That goes way beyond football for me as a coach. I think there are some comparisons there. John Ryes is an elite athlete. He is playing in the SEC, and Cayden is just a sophomore in high school. We will see how that pans out, but John Rhys is a good one to model your game after.
“He is mature for his age for sure. I think he has a bright future, not just as a quarterback, but as a young man with the way he carries himself. It’s not about him. He’s definitely a team guy. I really like those attributes about him. He’s a really good young man.”